AIMS: To explore the structure and content of narratives about the recovery process among patients undergoing heart valve surgery participating in cardiac rehabilitation. BACKGROUND: Several studies with short-term follow-up have shown that recovering from cardiac surgery can be challenging, but evidence on the long-term recovery process is very limited, especially following heart valve surgery. Furthermore, few studies have explored the recovery process among cardiac rehabilitation participants. DESIGN: A qualitative study with serial interviews analysed using narrative methods. METHODS: We collected data over 18 months (April 2013-October 2014). We recruited nine patients undergoing heart valve surgery from a randomized trial, CopenHeartVR and conducted 27 individual narrative interviews at 2-3 weeks, 3-4 months and 8-9 months after surgery. FINDINGS: Following heart valve surgery, the participants expected to return to normality. The analysis identified four courses of recovery, with three non-linear complex pathways deviating from the classic restitution narrative: the frustrated struggle to resume normality, the challenged expectation of normality - being in a limbo and becoming a heart patient. These deviating pathways were characterized by physical, existential and mental challenges even up to 9 months after surgery. CONCLUSION: The recovery processes of participants' in cardiac rehabilitation were often more complicated than anticipated. Patients undergoing heart valve surgery may benefit from more extensive medical follow-up immediately after discharge, individual psychological assessment and individualized, realistic information about the recovery trajectory.
Journal of Advanced Nursing, 2016, Vol 72, Issue 5, p. 1097-1108